Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SWE Society Conference

Society of Women Engineers is an international organization that was founded on the premise of promoting women in engineering both in academia and the professional arena. Every year, the organization holds a Society-wide conference where members from all around the world congregate to participate in workshops, networking, social events, and career fairs. This year the conference will be held in Houston TX.

I've been lucky enough to attend the Society conference for the past 2 years. My sophomore year it was held in Orlando, Florida, and last year's conference was in Chicago. As a sophomore with little to no experience at career fairs, the SWE career fair was definitely an eye-opening experience. Over 150 companies attend the career fair, and all of them are there for the sole purpose of promoting themselves to women engineers. It's pretty amazing. I got to meet so many professional members working at amazing companies. Being at Penn is a great environment, that I forget sometimes that it isn't a perfect microcosm of the world. And the recruiters are mostly women engineers and they want to tell you their story, they want to help you find a company that would be a great fit for you.

The workshops I've attended have also been very helpful. There are ones tailor-made for college students - Is Grad School a Good Option? How do I Find and Internship? - but there are also ones targeted towards women at any point in their careers - How do I brand Myself? Networking 101. At these workshops, you get the chance to hear women tell their story, give their advice, ad you have a chance to meet other students and workers who have the same problems, same worries, and same goals as you. And a lot of the time they have suggestions that you've never considered before.

Finally, Society conference has always been a great way for me to get to know people better - people from Penn. Usually only SWE board members attend, but we are trying to expand so that we can fund more people. It's a great social environment. In Orlando, we went to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. In Chicago, we went out for a late night meal of deep dish pizza after walking on the boardwalk and riding a ferris wheel. I talked to upperclassmen and got advice about how to talk to recruiters, how to interview, they even critiqued my resume.

If you've never been to a conference, it really is a mind blowing experience. I've never seen so many engineers in one place. When someone tells a math joke, everyone laughs. When people talk about problem sets and crazy team projects, everyone can relate. It's an amazing opportunity to get to talk to other college students and working engineers. Anyone interested can find out more and register at the SWE website!

Have questions for Melissa about SWE?  Contact her at awe@seas.upenn.edu

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grace Hopper Conference Part 2

I was also lucky enough to be awarded a Facebook scholarship to attend Grace Hopper—in fact, there were three girls from Penn, so we really represented! My whole experience at Grace Hopper was great, but I’ll pick up right where the last post left off.

My morning on Thursday was early, jam-packed, and quite full of delicious food.  I started off by going to a breakfast with Yahoo! where two Yahoo-ers who talked passionately about their projects.   Next I headed to the inspiring Keynote given by Nora Denzel.  From there I went straight to breakfast #2, this one for the Facebook scholars.  This event was particularly special, as Facebook had just achieved their billionth user, and we got to join in the celebrations.  The rest of Thursday was spent attending sessions, perusing the career fair, and even doing a few interviews.  One memorable session was “How to Get There:  Secrets for Success, in the Style of GLEE”.  It was definitely a popular session—I barely got in before it filled up—and for good reason.  The presenter gave us 10 all-important tips, presented with relevant song clips.  My personal favorite was “Be Prepared” from the Lion King.

All of the Facebook scholars were given the option to interview with Facebook while at the conference, and Friday was the day of my highly anticipated interview.  I spent the morning prepping:  doing practice problems, going over data structures, etc.  I was a little terrified, but felt better once I was introduced to my interviewer—I had met her two nights before at our Facebook dinner/mixer, and she was really nice!  The extra boost of confidence helped a lot going in, and the interview went well.  Friday night was the conference’s grand finale:  a party hosted by Google and Microsoft at the science museum.  All of us there were geeks, so of course we had a blast.  I watched a 3D IMAX movie about the sea, and saw some crazy fish.  Then, after some heartfelt speeches and prize giveaways, we had a beautiful dessert buffet.  The night ended with a Planetarium show.

This was my first time attending the conference; I’d applied for scholarships in past years, but never before received one.  When I got my congratulatory email from Facebook, I was so excited—I could hardly believe it was real!  Now I can say that Grace Hopper was even better than I was expecting.  I hope the conference continues to grow so even more girls can have exciting and empowering experiences like mine.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A conference report....

Scholarship Winners @ Facebook offices before heading to Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper
For those of you who don't know, there is a conference that takes place every year called the "Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing." It's a little bit of a mouth full, but nonetheless an amazing opportunity.

I've had the good fortune of winning a scholarship this year to attend the conference. A resume submission and 2 short essays later, I received an email from a Facebook recruiter titled "Congratulations!" The scholarship includes a two days of networking/ mentoring workshops and tech talks at the Facebook NY office prior to the conference, a food stipend, travel and lodging accommodations, and of course, registration for the conference.

My time in NYC was amazing. Sunday night a bus picked up all of the scholarship recipients to go see Mama Mia! on broadway. It was an awesome night, I have been to the city over a dozen times, but never seen a broadway show.

Monday: Facebook in the big apple
We had scheduled events starting at 9am. It wouldn't be a complete NY experience without Lox & Bagel for breakfast, so that's exactly what Facebook provided. We ate and chatted, and slowly woke up. The next few hours were filled with tech talks, mentoring workshops, and interview workshops. After those were all said and done, we were given boxed lunches and given a generous 5 hours of free time before attending a mixer at the Facebook office catered by a Bravo TV chef.

Tuesday: trip to baltimore
We once again woke up early, this time at 8am (I'm starting to see a trend) to get on a charter bus to drive to Baltimore for the conference.  I would say 80% of the girls (and women) passed out on the bus from the early hours, and the packed schedule the day prior. After we arrived in Baltimore, the rest of the day was free time.

Wednesday: the start of the conference
Registration began at 7am, which is the earliest to date that we've had to get up. My sister and I decided to sleep in and register later to avoid the early-bird lines. This was a mistake, because it turned out most people had the exact same idea as us. After we were finally able to get our name tags (and giant bag of swag I might add), we started going to workshops. Workshops such as "Finding your dream job," "Graduate school survival skills," and "how to influence without authority and why it is important" led by leading women in the industry, filled the day. There are several breaks of course, complete with snacks and coffee.

In addition to the workshops, the conference comes jam packed with a career fair with more than 40 companies in attendance, mentoring sessions, special dinners with companies, and interviews onsite with most companies.  I'm sitting on one of the many comfortable couches scattered around the convention center, waiting for the next round of workshops to begin. As I look around me, I see a lot of girls just like me, with their laptops coding or watching videos, and others just chatting-- and it makes me smile. I can't wait to see what the rest of the conference has to offer.

Regardless of what major you are, I highly recommend that you attend a relevant conference at some point. It's a great opportunity to meet people who share your passions, play hooky (I mean take a break) from school, and have a lot of fun!

Want to know more about Grace Hopper?  Contact us at awe@seas.upenn.edu

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy Five Year Anniversary to AWE!

Five years ago today I walked into the School of Engineering and Applied Science here at Penn for the first time to start the Advancing Women in Engineering (AWE) program.  I'll admit I was nervous, excited and completely unsure of what was waiting for me.  The first days of AWE were filled with a head spinning array of meetings, ideas and research.  What were other schools doing?  How should I be spending my time?  What were our priorities?  While I had started initiatives and events before, never on this scale had I tried to build something from the ground up.  I was excited to plan something for the future and spent much of those early months talking with students, faculty and staff about what they thought AWE should be.

Since then I am proud to say that AWE offers over 40 programs a year including social and academic programs for current students, outreach to middle school and high school students, trainings for teachers and guidance counselors, and events for prospective students.  Just looking at my calendar for today is a testament to how far we have come - over the course of the day I will meet with a prospective woman engineer, talk over plans for the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference with 2 of the 10 students we're taking to the conference this year, serve as the walk-in advisor for students, and talk to an alum about her plans for the future.  Its all in a day's work now of AWE! 

Sometimes in the day to day of keeping up with e-mail, returning phone calls, planning programs, and going to meetings its easy to forget how far we have come since Oct 1, 2007.  I recently had lunch with 2 alums who were some of the first students I met when AWE started and got to hear about all the amazing things they are doing at their engineering jobs today.  Both of them talked about being one of only a few women in their roles and how much they miss the women engineering community we were able to create here at Penn.  It was a great reminder to me how important a program like AWE is and how proud I am to be part of it.

So happy fifth anniversary AWE!  May there be many more in the future!

Michele Grab is the Director of the Advancing Women in Engineering program.  Contact her at awe@seas.upenn.edu for more information about AWE.